Judge sets bail at $250,000 for vehicular homicide suspect

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: April 27, 2012, 6:07 PM

 

A judge set bail at $250,000 on Friday for a motorist accused of driving drunk and causing a crash near Battle Ground that killed his passenger.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Dan Stahnke said the bail amount “may be low,” considering defendant Serengaw Ham has two unconfirmed prior DUI convictions in Oregon over the past three years and several other previous violations.

Even so, Stahnke’s bail setting exceeded the $100,000 that prosecutors had requested.

“We feel the defendant is a risk to the community,” Deputy Prosecutor Mike Dodds said, after listing off Ham’s previous offenses.

Ham, 28, of Portland made his first appearance in court Friday on suspicion of vehicular homicide in connection with the crash that killed Arnoux Benjamin, 18, of Portland.

According to paperwork filed with the court, deputies responded to the crash about 11:20 p.m. Tuesday at the 20700 block of Northeast Risto Road. They found a 1997 Ford Crown Victoria had hit a tree on the south side of the road. Benjamin died at the scene.

A drug recognition expert evaluated Ham at the hospital, where he was being treated, and “determined that Ham was under the influence of alcohol and also, possibly, marijuana,” according to a probable cause affidavit signed by Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu.

Deputies also obtained a legal blood draw from Ham; results at a crime lab are pending.

A sheriff’s deputy also found an opened 12-pack box of Budweiser beer behind the driver’s seat, according to Vu’s affidavit.

The penalties for vehicular homicide just increased under a bill signed last month by Gov. Chris Gregoire, raising the punishment range — previously 31 to 41 months in prison — to prison terms of 6½ to 8½ years.

Ham will be arraigned May 4. His court-appointed attorney, Matthew Hoff, said Friday that he wanted to address the bail amount at a later date, once he collects more information.

Laura McVicker: http://twitter.com/col_courts; http://facebook.com/reportermcvicker; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.